Proposed changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) could substantially alter the way municipalities work together if they are passed at the Legislature.
The provincial government’s new local government bill passed first reading of proposed changes to the MGA Tuesday, May 31 giving municipalities and Alberta residents a chance to review those changes, which fall under three key areas: collaboration and planning, governance and funding.
Mayor Rick Bonnett said he would like to see some guidance on how those changes will look.
Intermunicipal collaboration is going to become a requirement, which provides for mandatory regional planning mechanisms for land-use planning and requires neighbouring municipalities to work together on providing services to residents.
This would require the town and county of Ponoka to formalize collaboration processes and address regional funding and service delivery. Bonnett wants to know how that collaboration is supposed to look and suggests future community sessions with the province will help him provide that feedback.
New councillors would be required to undertake orientation training within 90 days. and adoption of a code of conduct is also goning to be mandatory. Bonnett questions whether a person can be forced to abide by that code. He understands from his communication with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) it appears a municipality can’t force a person to go to training.
“What good is a code of conduct if it has no teeth?” asked Bonnett.
He added there are several unknowns in the proposed changes and despite Ponoka council and other municipalities seeking other ways of taxation, the province did not make provisions for that potential in the new draft.
It did, however, allow the use of offsite levies in building community centres due to community growth and greater demand for community buildings.
In recent years, Municipal Affairs has seen increased requests for the ministry to step in when residents feel councillors are not acting in the community’s best interests. The proposed changes will mandate that the Alberta Ombudsman objectively investigate incidents.
There have also been concerns raised by commercial/industrial stakeholders over an imbalance in residential versus non-residential taxes. The MGA review proposes linking both to the highest non-residential tax rate can be no more than five times the lowest residential tax rate.
Mayor Rick Bonnett said he would like clarification on several portions of the proposed changes considering the province has indicated a desire to have this ready for the next municipal election.